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Bear Cub Challenge rebrands as LEAP, awards $250K to WashU teams

After fourteen years as the “Bear Cub Challenge,” Washington University in St. Louis’ competition for inventors has received a new name: the LEAP Inventor Challenge (Leadership in Entrepreneurial Acceleration Program).

Ramesh Raliya, a research scientist, is developing fertilizer for agricultural crops that provide highly efficient nutrient use and eco-friendly solution at low-cost to address food, energy and water nexus.

The competition is open to all faculty, postdoc, staff and graduate student teams, and awards funding to those with translational research and inventions with the goal of advancing Washington University’s intellectual property towards commercialization. Facilitators of the competition desired a rebrand so that the competition’s name would better represent such a mission. “The new name, LEAP Inventor Challenge, speaks to the goal of the competition—leaping from invention to impact,” comments Emre Toker, Managing Director for the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, one of the facilitators of the competition.

The Skandalaris Center held a student competition to solicit name suggestions for the rebrand. “It was important to us that we involve our students in this process. The Skandalaris Center exists for the purpose of interdisciplinary engagement; involving students in this initiative was a simple and obvious way to achieve that and utilize the creative minds here at Washington University,” Toker added.

The winning name was contributed by Lucy Dai-He, a Washington University Junior studying mathematics and biology.

The rebrand comes at the same time as the conclusion of the latest cycle of the challenge, which will award up to $250,000 in total to five Washington University research teams. Funds will be dispersed based on successful completion of milestones. In addition to the Skandalaris Center, other university facilitators include the Office of Technology Management (OTM), the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS), the Center for Drug Discovery (CDD), and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Together, they provide mentorship, additional funding, and other research resources to the applicants’ proposals.

The facilitators—all from varying parts of the university—are united by their goal to amplify and commercialize the research done on campus. Brad Evanoff and Kelle Moley, co-directors of ICTS, explain, “Commercialization of new ideas is an important path for translating biomedical discovery into its real-world applications in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.”

Michael Kinch, co-director of the CDD, echoes ICTS, “The blend of education and application conveyed by the LEAP Inventor Challenge provides a way to help identify, prioritize and mature the most promising projects and to utilize the expertise of its outstanding external judges.”

The “external judges” that Kinch acknowledges are an important part of LEAP. Each cycle, domain experts and both local and national venture capital firms are invited to judge the final pitches. Companies and individuals represented are listed below. “As an alumna, it was exciting to come back and watch talented teams pitch the latest innovations being developed in Washington University laboratories,” remarked Elise Miller Hoffman, BA’11, MBA’16, LEAP judge and Principal at Cultivation Capital. Another judge, Tara Butler, MD, Managing Director at Ascension Ventures, added, “Judging for the LEAP Inventor Challenge gives me the opportunity to be exposed to some of the most exciting early stage technologies which have the potential to become my portfolio investments of tomorrow.”

The winning teams are eager to move forward. “Working with the Skandalaris team and migrating through the LEAP Inventor Challenge process provides significant assurance that your idea, its path forward and its potential value are well-grounded,” commented Tom Girard, one of the winning teams’ leads.

Another winner, Ramesh Raliya, added, “LEAP laid down a path for me to translate lab scale innovation into a real-world product in a defined period of time. I will use the funds to develop a proof of concept of the technology which will help me to get further capital investment from federal agencies and VCs.”


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